How to Give Your Cat a Massage

by catfood

Maryjean Ballner

AhhhhTheres the rub

Lessons in the language of touch help owners and

shelter volunteers speak fluent bark and meow.


My final paper at the Swedish Institute of Massage Therapy in New York City in 1983 was titled Massage Therapy Therapy from a Feline Perspective. I studied human and feline anatomy and physiology before adapting traditional Swedish massage techniques to cats. During my investigation, I noticed a significant difference in Mr. To place an order, dial 877-MEOW-MEOW or go to www. As I focused more on how I was dogging him, he focused more on me. I knew it was because of the massages when he became loving, receptive, and eventually plain demanding of my affection.

Sixteen years later, I met a fearful and timid four-year-old male cat at the Peninsula Humane Society outside of San Francisco, where I go on a daily basis to massage the cats. He weighed just more than four and a half pounds and was one of 25 flea-bitten, undersocialized, and emaciated cats rescued from an animal collector’s home. He hid in his cage so far back that he was practically invisible to the people that passed by every day. It took me a few minutes the first time we met to gently peel his claws from the shelf. He shivered and cowered for the first week while I wrapped him in a towel. I tried massage, but even the lightest touch was too much for me.

I tenderly cradled this cat in my arms or held him firmly on my lap for the following few weeks, repeating calm, soothing phrases. He gradually warmed up to being massaged with a soft bristle brush.

Needless to say, I took him in. He had been scheduled for euthanasia five months prior. Bodacious now enjoys any massage technique I try on him. Some of his old phobias remain, but he definitely craves affection and attention now. What a testament to the healing power of touch!


From people to pets

Massage for animals may appear frivolous to some. However, the benefits of massage are obvious, regardless of the recipient. Massage stimulates the nervous system, muscles, circulatory system, and lymphatic system. It improves range of motion, increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells, soothes muscle spasms, and aids in the removal of harmful chemicals that cause pain, such as lactic acid. Massage has been used therapeutically to aid in the recovery from injury or surgery, to relieve chronic stiffness, and to lower the pulse rate.

Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founded the first Touch Research Institute in 1992 at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Massage can alleviate symptoms of sadness and reduce stress hormones, according to research conducted at the Institute, which is dedicated completely to the study of touch and its use in science and medicine. However, the benefits of massage are all too often overlooked in human psychology. Years later, it was discovered that babies born in orphanages in the 1940s and 1950s frequently perished from not being held.

According to Steven Lindsay, M.A., a dog trainer and animal behaviorist based in Philadelphia, touch experiences underpin our emotional states. Lindsay adds that massage stimulates the creation of endorphins (or opioids), which are associated with emotions such as pain, grief, fear, and joy. Touch, he claims, provides immediate access to emotion.


Tips on getting started

First, practice with a willing animal partner. Massage is simple to learn and just takes a few minutes. Most people do not use slow motion massage often enough out of the four massage speeds available. Remember that it is the masseur’s aim that distinguishes massage from simple petting, and animals can sense a person’s intent. Patience and perseverance are rewarded. Some of these ideas may be so subtle that you’ll be inclined to ignore them, but it’s just these nuances that make massage effective.

  1. Take note of your own mental state. Do you feel pressed for time? Frustrated? Angry? Take a few deep breaths and let go of your worries. It may appear unusual to you, but what appears excruciatingly slow to you may be perfectly acceptable for your pet.
  2. Begin with a voice massage. Repeat an endearing remark in a calming tone (or song) over and again to grab your animal’s attention and prepare both of you for contact. The tone of your voice is more essential than the words themselves. Who’s the best boy in the whole wide world? I sing. Champer Damper, you’re the one. Have fun coming up with your own ideas.
  3. Allow enough time for your cat or dog, even a loyal family member, to sniff, know, and accept your outstretched hand before you actually touch him or her. Then, always approach from the shoulders up. Even if you know a little dog or a cat, never make first contact with the top of the head or the face, since they may interpret this as a threat.
  4. Take your time. In fact, you’re probably already familiar with many of the moves. Count how long it takes you to stroke your pet’s back. Then, repeat the stroke in half the time, such that a four-count stroke now takes eight counts. Focus on your companion’s requirements. A few minutes of well-intentioned touch can replace a half-hour of caressing.
  5. Make use of repetition. Six times through, use the same sluggish technique. It may appear uninteresting to you, but it will not be for your pet. Repetition fosters acceptance and familiarity, which leads to relaxation.
  6. If your dog refuses to rest or wants to play, attempt giving a few simple instructions in a firm voice, such as sit and down, until your pet accepts the routine.
  7. Massage is really intuitive. Trust your gut instinct. Feel how your animals react. You’ll feel better, and so will your pet.
  8. Look for positive remarks. For cats, this implies blinking, purring (sometimes), drooling, napping, self-grooming, or a relaxed expression in the eyes. It could be licking the lips, a relaxed body posture, or a peaceful gaze in the eyes in dogs.
  9. Get yourself a massage! This is the most effective approach for you to comprehend the many strokes and their cumulative benefits.
  10. Once you’ve mastered massage, offer your services to others. Remember that anything you learn at home with your own animals may be applied at your local shelter.

You’ve made a buddy for the day if you pet an animal. Massage an animal, and you’ve made a lifelong friend.


For cats

  1. Begin with a series of slow-motion caresses with four fingers together and light pressure. Consider the bony shapes.
  2. Return to the front for more Breast Stroking. Check to see whether your animal wants you to go faster.
  3. Now cup your hand around the chest. There is no need to move. This will work effectively for scared animals.
  4. Chin Ups are performed by stroking the chin with two fingers. Caresses should be repeated from the throat to the tip of the chin. Now, in a circular motion, rub the tip of the chin. If the cat’s chin goes towards the sky, you’re cooking now!

…as well as for dogs

Massage of the head(1) and jaw(2) muscles induces a developing relaxation response. (3) Applying a moderate circular motion with the fingers while kneading with the heel of the hand has a great relaxing impact.

First and foremost, safety.

  • Never, ever employ force.
  • Never put pressure on an animal’s stomach.
  • Never attempt to offer a massage when impaired by drink or drugs.
  • Wait till you’re in a nice mood if you’re not already.
  • Use no oils, creams, or lotions.
  • Never tug on the fur, ears, tail, or whiskers.
  • Massage an aggressive dog only with the assistance of an expert. Use a muzzle if in doubt.

For Additional Information

Get Your Cat Wants a Massage! on video! Cat Massage, a 128-page book with images illustrating 40 techniques by Maryjean Ballner, is also available through St. Martins Press. To place an order, call 877-MEOW-MEOW or go to

Other books by Steven R. Lindsay, Iowa State University Press, include The Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. I, Adaptation and Learning and The Healing Touch, Dr. Michael W. Fox, Newmarket Press.

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